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China’s Web Series, Online Films Required to Register, Report Actor Fees

Most web series and online films in China must register with the government and report their budgets and actor salaries starting from this Friday, the country’s media watchdog has decreed, in a further tightening of official oversight of the entertainment sector amid an uproar over talent pay.

All live-action and animated series intended for online distribution with budgets of more than RMB5 million ($740,000) and all online movies with budgets exceeding RMB1 million ($148,000) must now register and pass approval twice before they are disseminated to viewers, China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) declared in a December directive posted Wednesday to its official website. Companies must report their project’s title, genre, content and budget before production begins, and provide an update on information including actual expenses and actor pay after completion. The new regulation goes into effect Friday.

Nearly all substantive online content projects will be affected since the budget cutoffs are quite low. Even mediocre web series cost about RMB1 million to create, a Beijing-based production company associate told the Global Times newspaper.

The measure is a follow-up to regulations on tax payments and actor salaries released last year, and shows that Chinese authorities are policing online content with equal attention as traditional TV and film production.

In the wake of last year’s tax-evasion scandal involving superstar Fan Bingbing, authorities set a cap on actor salaries, stating that talent fees cannot exceed 40% of a project’s total production costs and that leading stars cannot be paid more than 70% of a work’s budget for talent. Fan had been slammed for the widespread practice of using “yin-yang contracts,” in which only the smaller of two contracts drawn up for the same work is reported to the tax authorities as income.

The new regulation on web content is part of China’s growing effort to crack down on skyrocketing celeb fees. “Government regulation will re-balance the market that has been troubled by star worship over artistic appreciation,” the Global Times cited an industry insider as saying, though he stressed that it would take a long time before yin-yang contracts were actually be stamped out.

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